While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement last week that those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks in most indoor or outdoor settings caused some confusion, several major stores immediately did away with their mandates.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic,” the CDC states in its updated guidance. “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, find a vaccine.”
The sudden announcement left millions of Americans wondering whether they need to mask up or if they can go maskless, and while some stores immediately changed their rules, others did not.
Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, Publix, and Trader Joe’s, for example, all bailed on the requirement, saying people who have been fully vaccinated can go without masks.
“In accordance with CDC guidelines, individuals who are not fully vaccinated are required to use face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix store,” the grocery store chain said in a statement.
But it’s unclear who will be allowed to go maskless or whether stores will require proof. Costco sought to clear that up, saying, “We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy.”
While some stores said they would make no change to mask mandates, Walmart — the country’s No. 1 retailer, with more than 4,700 stores in the U.S. — said in a memo to employees that vaccinated customers will be allowed to shop without masks. The chain said employees who have been vaccinated can work without masks as of May 18, adding that it is paying $75 bonuses to vaccinated workers as “a thank you for getting vaccinated.”
“We will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs. We will update the signage in our facilities to reflect this,” the memo to both Walmart and Sam’s Club employees said.
Others plan to wait a while. Home Depot and Target said they will keep their mask policies for now.
“Target will continue to require all of our coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, while we review [Thursday’s] guidance from the CDC and re-evaluate the guidance we offer our team and guests,” a spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Sunday that the agency’s new COVID-19 guidance on mask-wearing is not “permission for widespread removal” of face coverings.
“The guidance that we released on Thursday is about individuals and what individuals are at risk of doing if they are not vaccinated,” Walensky said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” She added that decisions on mask mandates need to be made at the “community level.”
“If they’re vaccinated, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated, they are not safe. They should still be wearing a mask, or better yet, get vaccinated,” she said.
“We also need to say that this is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” Walensky said. “For those who are vaccinated, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable removing their masks, but also that these decisions have to be made at the jurisdictional level, at the community level. Some communities have been hit harder than others, have lower vaccination rates than others.”
“We wanted to deliver the science at the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community level.”
Walensky said mask guidance has not changed for the unvaccinated. “We have to take this foundational step that is completely based in science and understand what it means as we open the entire country,” she said.
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